Open records office sees big increase in appeals

When you fling open the doors of transparency in state government, expect a flood of truth seekers to enter.

So it seems with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR) which has seen an 89 percent increase in the number of appeals filed annually since its inception in 2009.

"I do think it's of major significance that the number of cases has almost doubled since our doors opened," said executive director Terry Mutchler. "No other states have never seen increase like this."

In 2009 it handled just over 1,159 appeals and now it is handling more than 2,188.

"People said in the first couple years it would level off," Mutchler said. "But agencies are becoming much more sophisticated in their attempts to stop people from gaining information."

The report's release comes during Sunshine Week, the annual event calling attention to openness in government.

“The report showcases the skyrocketing workload fueled in large part by the public’s increased attentiveness to the what, how, and why surrounding the actions of its government,” said Mutchler.

The OOR, created under the 2008 Right-to-Know Law, is an independent quasi-judicial office that currently has eleven staff and a budget last year of $1.3 million.

In addition to adjudicating the nearly 2,200 appeals filed in 2012, the OOR fielded over 10,000 telephone calls and e-mail inquiries and participated or monitored nearly 170 cases in the Courts of Common Pleas, Commonwealth Court, and Supreme Court.

A snapshot of the report shows that 752 appeals were filed against state agencies - the highest was the Department of Corrections - while 1,436 appeals were filed against local agencies.

 Among the requests citizens sought inspection reports of school cafeterias, cost information of agency investigations, information concerning how property tax assessments are determined, amounts spent on litigation and e-mails of government officials. 

“The Right-to-Know Law and OOR remain strong and effective tools enabling citizens to maintain a transparent and accountable government,” Mutchler said.

Even as more records are being denied, Mutchler said Pennsylvania continues to be a national leader in open government, ranking fifth in among states in overall government transparency.





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